Just days ago, millions of people all over the world welcomed in the secular new year of 2008. A great majority did so by partying well into the night, overindulging in food and drink, singing and dancing and generally making a lot of noise. They were wild with excitement that a new calendar year was beginning.
This unconditional embrace of a (manmade) “new” year has always puzzled me. Since the future is unknown – how can one so blindly embrace it? How can these celebrants be so sure that 2008 will be a “happy” year for them? How can they be so confident that the forthcoming days, weeks and months will be “benign” – and that there aren’t events ahead that won’t be ones of tremendous loss, chaos or death?
Jews celebrating their New Year are not in such denial or such a blissful state of oblivion to the potential of a harsh reality. We know that the quality and quantity of our lives determines every new year. We are all too aware of what can befall us, for whereas we hope and pray that we will have a good year – a shanah tovah – we know only too well that various calamities can happen to us and to our loved ones. We know that we all are on trial and that the Master of the Universe is judging us and His verdict will be sealed and eventually executed.
Hence we act accordingly. We spend the two days of our new year in deep prayer and heartfelt supplication, pleading with our Creator to bless us with a pleasant year – whether we merit it or not. And on Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, our day in Appeals Court, so to speak, we spend the entire time fasting and pleading with the Heavenly Judge to be merciful for our lives are totally in His hands.
During our prayers of appeal we silently wonder – who will live and who will die? For those who will get a decree for life – will they have tranquility or chaos? And of those who will die – will they die peacefully, or painfully? Will they have enjoyed the full measure of their years, or die prematurely, painfully or violently? There is no being oblivious of reality on our New Year, nor is there blind optimism.
Spending most of our holiday in our synagogues, in trepidation and even anxiety, admitting to G-d that we ignored the guidelines He gave for our own benefit, and begging Him for forgiveness and mercy – seems the sensible way to observe a new year, a new cycle of time. Mindlessly partying into the wee hours of the night – often to the point of being senseless – does not.
It was estimated that there were about a million people who thronged to New York City’s Times Square to greet the new year, flushed with excitement and in a state of exhilaration. Yet did any take a minute to wonder what kind of year they will experience? Did they take a time-out and spend a moment contemplating what could happen to them or those they are closely connected to in the upcoming months? Will they get a problematic medical diagnosis; lose their job and/or their home? Be severely injured in a car accident? Die in a fire or drown in a flood (As we say in our Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur davening – me b’aish u’mi b’mayim.)
Every year, just days, even hours after the new year begins, there are news stories of people who were killed or murdered and I have no doubt that these very same individuals were cavorting and merrymaking on News Year’s Eve.
I would think, if anything, they should celebrate the year that just ended. Obviously they survived that one and if they are able to party – they must be in relatively good physical and emotional health. Thus on New Year’s Eve, perhaps they should party because they got through 2007 relatively intact – and not so mindlessly greet an unknown new year.
Every Rosh Hashanah, I tell myself that I must have had a successful davening because I’m still here and while I might have had my “ups and downs” during that cycle of time, nothing negatively out of the ordinary happened. Thus I ” celebrate” and thank Hashem for the past year – even as I daven that the year ahead will be a palatable one.
Perhaps those celebrating 2008 should take a time out from their New Year partying – and say a prayer as well.